By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
West Virginia University’s first Big 12 victory was a memorable win in a most forgettable overtime game.
Fighting back from a 13-point deficit in a game where they could have been down 30, the Mountaineers could not clinch the victory until Aaric Murray stole a Texas pass and sank two free throws with 6.5 seconds left for a 57-53 final score.
Texas coach Rick Barnes had won all 14 of his previous conference home openers.
West Virginia had missed 14 consecutive 3-point shots and was in jeopardy of seeing its streak of 436 consecutive games with a 3-point basket broken when Kevin Noreen, of all people, hit a 3 to get them back into contention. A struggling Jabarie Hinds, who had missed all five of his 3-point tries, then tied the game at 47 with a 3, and then WVU nearly won it in regulation as Eron Harris hit a 3 for a 50-47 lead in the final seconds.
But the Longhorns, who now have dropped each of their first two conference games this season in overtime, tied the game when Jonathan Harris dropped his own 3 on top of that to force overtime.
In overtime the Mountaineers crushed the offensive boards, allowing them to run one possession for almost two minutes. In all they had 17 offensive rebounds, Noreen showing the way with 13 boards.
“This is what we do,” Huggins said of the rebounding. “This is what I’m accustomed to seeing us doing. I wasn’t accustomed of seeing what they had been doing. If we play this way, we’re going to be all right.”
The Mountaineers now are 8-6 and even their Big 12 record at 1-1.
As play started, neither coach knew what to expect from his team, at least what good to expect.
“You never know who is going to play; you never know who is going to show up,” Huggins had said in preparing for the game.
His counterpart, Rick Barnes, coaching the youngest team in America with two freshmen and three sophomores starting and not a junior or senior in his rotation, echoed Huggins’ feelings as his team has had similar struggles.
“Like Bobby,” Barnes said, “I don’t know what to expect.”
“We’re young, but as coaches, we can’t accept that,” Barnes continued. “Sometimes maybe we’re unrealistic that way. We do realize it’s something they’re going through they haven’t gone through, but they think they’re older than they are. If they think that way, they ought to play like they’re older than they are.”
While Texas had been suffering similar problems scoring to WVU’s, the Longhorns figured to shut down the Mountaineers’ anemic attack as they were allowing only 60 points a game and were No. 1 in the nation allowing just 33 percent from the field and 23 percent from 3-point range.
Considering the Mountaineers were shooting just 39.7 percent from the field, which was 303rd in the country, and 28.7 from 3-point range, which would have been No. 317 if it qualified to be ranked, what transpired was quite predictable.
The Mountaineers were terrible … and so was Texas as the Longhorns led, 24-21, at the half.
There was no telling how bad it might have been had Texas not been 4-for-14 from the free-throw line in the first half with seven turnovers while the Mountaineers outrebounded the Longhorns 21-15.
Shooting in the first half was worse than normal for WVU, which hit but 25 percent of its field goals and never did hit one of its 10 3-point tries. The Mountaineers missed 15 of their last 17 shots of the half.
About the only thing that worked was Huggins decision to start Noreen, who cleared 8 rebounds in the first half.
“I don’t know that our bigs can play very long,” Huggins said of the decision to go with Noreen and Dominique Rutledge instead of Deniz Kilicli and Aaric Murray. “Down the stretch against Oklahoma we didn’t play well down, so we will try to keep the big guys fresher, get them in and get them out.”
He had to. By halftime Rutledge and Kilicli had three fouls each and Murray two.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.